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What’s it like?: Ischgl ski resort, Austria

Written by Fiona

April 18 2019

I spent a week skiing at the popular Austrian resort of Ischgl. It’s a noswsure resort in the Tyrol area and offers plenty of steeps and longs. There are also three fantastic Smuggler’s Cicuits to ski. Here is my overview.

Where and what to ski in Ischgl

Arriving at a new ski resort with a wide choice of slopes is always exciting, but also a little mesmerising.

It is no different on the first day in Ischgl, an Austrian town situated in a large ski alpine area in the Tyrol.

Studying the Silvretta Arena piste map over an eat-as-much-as-you-want breakfast in the hotel, my husband Gordon and I point randomly at potentially great looking ski runs.

There are plenty of them, too. Ischgl extends to almost 240kms of ski runs, including 34km of difficult (black) runs, 143km of medium (red) runs and 47km of easy (blue and green) runs.

Hubby G is keen to head straight for the steepest (black) slopes and he points to a high area below Palinkopf Summit.

Hoping for a bit more of a warm-up before tackling the blacks, I suggest an area of intermediate red-graded runs in the Alp Trida area.

G point to the signs for the Gold Smugglers’ Circuit.

Still undecided, we order another jug of coffee and return to the buffet for croissants. And it’s then that I spot a different network of routes called the Smugglers’ Circuits.

Closer inspection of the map reveals there are three point-to-point circuits, “bronze”, “silver” and “gold”, which take skiers and snowboarders on a tour of the wider resort.

“Perfect,” we both nod. Following a waymarked route, similar to a mountain biking or hiking trail, requires very little thought and far more action.

A long history of smuggling

On further investigation, we discover that Ischgl – and the neighbouring Swiss village of Samnaun – has a long history of smuggling. 

In times past, Austrians would pack their bags and rucksacks with butter, cheese and furs to cross the border to Switzerland – and return with coffee, flour, rice, sugar, spices and tobacco to sell in Austria. 

Bringing the theme into the 21st century, the Smuggler routes allow skiers to collect kilometres, rather than goods. 

The routes are marked on piste maps, a smartphone app and also on mountain signposts. The app also tracks progress by GPS and allows you to record your route. 

If you successfully complete the gold, silver or bronze circuits, you can enter various prize draws to win ski-related items.

Skiing the gold route

On our first day, with fresh legs and a desire to see as much of the Silvretta Arena as we can, we take on the longest circuit.

Extending to 59kms in total, with 35.7km of skiing, the Gold is claimed to be one of the longest of its kind in the world. 

The Silvretta Arena also gains the title of the third-largest ski area in the Tyrol, with snowsure slopes rising from 1400m in Ischgl to a high point of Greitspitze  at 2872m.

The ski area is boastful, too, of its modern uplift system. And rightly so, with more than 40 lifts, including several eight-man chairs and heated gondolas, that do a swift job of transporting skiers while reducing queue times.

All this we enjoy as we ski the snakes-and-ladders Gold circuit beneath a warm winter sun.

The kilometres are quickly collected on a wide variety of well-groomed blue and red-graded slopes.

We climb by chairlift to a fabulous viewpoint at the Palinkopf (2864m) for an impressive panorama over the Austrian Alps and, later on, to the highest summit of Greitspitze.

We also ski the “Dutyfree Run” across the Swiss border to the village of Samnaun.

A large and high gondola back to Austria provides yet more amazing vistas across the mountain border area.

At Alp Trida, we enjoy skiing some superbly flowing red runs and we know we’ll return to this area time and again.

After only a few hours on the Gold route and we have a much clearer idea of the pistes we will ski in the Silvretta Arena over the next five days.

The off-piste skiing areas look good, too, close to the pistes but with plenty of high slopes and several large bowls. 

We decide to hire a guide (Ski Schule Ischgl) for a day later in the week when there is fresh snow forecast.

And, then, seemingly all too soon we reach the end of the Gold Circuit. Skiing under the finish line goalpost, we take off our skis and look for a bar for a celebratory beer.

Fresh powder runs on the Ischgl blacks.

Apres ski entertainment

A drink is very easy to find in Ischgl – and the town has a reputation for partying. Certainly, there is a lot of apres-ski entertainment to be had if that is what you are looking for.

Equally, if you prefer a couple of quiet drinks followed by an early bedtime that’s possible, too.

As you can imagine, the people who are up early for the first lifts of the following day are fewer than those that get there by lunchtime.

We feel like we struck gold in Ischgl.

A quieter bar (smoke-free, too) for a couple of apres ski drinks.

Ischgl travel notes

I enjoyed the trip with Crystal Ski Holidays (tel: 020 8610 3123). A week’s half-board accommodation at the four-star Hotel Resort Seiblishof starts from £1344 per person when booked online (based on two sharing), including flights from Edinburgh to Innsbruck and airport transfers (price given is for departure on January 4, 2020). Direct flights available from all major UK airports. 

Also see Ischgl on-line for opening times and lift passes.

Also read: History, skiing and wonderful views on the Gold Smugglers’ Circuit in Ischgl.

Sunday Mail article:

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